How to talk to your kids about: Bullying

Bullying is very distressing. Children need to know they have our support and not our contempt. They can be afraid to tell anyone else what is going on in case they get into more trouble with the bully. Every child needs to know they have a safe person on their side who will take them seriously.

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Some things you can do to help

Be a great listener

This will give you permission to help solve a bullying problem. Most parents find this one hard as they go straight into problem-solving, questioning, advising, comparing, sympathising or lecturing. These techniques tend to shut communication down rather than open it up. Simply nodding and saying, “Mmm” or, “That sounds like it was hard,” communicates that we care and are more interested in letting the other person speak, than putting our spin on it.

The biggest challenge is to not offer anything else at this stage. Sensitive listening helps a child feel heard, which communicates love and support. A child will also feel that because we are not offering a range of solutions, we believe in their ability to come up with a solution. Please note – there are times to listen and times to act upon a child’s concerns.

Explain what is going on inside a bully

Bullies often don’t feel very good about themselves and the only way they know how to feel better is to make others feel bad. Their self-esteem is often also shaky so they try to make friends by dominating them or keeping them away from other friends.

Help them identify the qualities of a good friend

A good friend is honest, keeps their word, and is not so exclusive no one else can join the group. They are someone who can share their opinions without insisting that everyone else has to have the same line of thought. They are fun to be with and let others be themselves. Discuss how your child can be a good friend.

Give your child words to use to ‘bounce’ unkind words off

Instead of taking things personally and feeling wounded and hurt, a child can learn to resist unkind words by having their own internal dialogue. This might be something like, “I’ve got slippery shoulders,” and this means that unkind words slide right off. You can even physically act this one out so that the child is left in a position of power rather than weakness. Some children feel confident enough to shrug off the teasing with a, “So what?” or, “Who cares.”

Help them build assertiveness skills

For some, these skills come naturally, but for others they have to be learned. Every child needs to know how to enter a group of other children by having a line to use like, “Hi, this looks fun. Can I join in?”  They also need to know how to exit a group they are not comfortable in, with a line like, “This isn’t my idea of fun” or, “I am keen to play something else right now.” You can use role play to help your child feel comfortable with using new words and phrases because at first, it can feel very unnatural.

Role model

Let your children see how you deal with conflict and tension so they get to see how it is done. There are times to stand up for ourselves and this can be done respectfully so that we remain dignified and in control.

Take a little bit of time each day to debrief and ask two important questions around the dinner table – “What was the high of your day?” and, “What was the low of your day?” Parents share the best part of their day and the hardest or worst part, and then the children share theirs. This gives parents a window into what is going on inside their children.

Contact the school

Visit your child’s teacher and find out what they have noticed. A lot of bullying takes place ‘under the radar’, especially with girls. The teacher can address the issue broadly at first and then more specifically. If no progress is made, it is important to see the principal.

Take it seriously

Children should not be left to cope with bullying on their own. If your child is struggling or overwhelmed, it’s time to act. Bullying can now also be done online so it’s important to talk to them about messages they are receiving or sending. For more information and help, visit or contact Netsafe.

Book a session with a Family Coach

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